Unfortunately for the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes, they called heads.
The Class AAA state baseball championship series came down to two extra-inning games, two one-run differentials, two coin flips, but it was Blessed Trinity who walked away victorious Saturday at Richard Bell Field as the Canes came up short in their quest for the program’s seventh state championship in 14 years.
“I don’t know if there’s been a group come in here with as much guts as this one’s had,” Cartersville head coach Stuart Chester said of his team after the loss. “We’ve had some very talented ones and some talented ones with guts, but it’s a lot easier to have guts when you’re talented. For them, this year, to go out there and not have the gun fully loaded and still have guts, that’s bravery. That’s what our guys have got.
“We’re not the most talented team, but in my mind, across the whole state, we’re the best team.”
Blessed Trinity 2, Cartersville 1
Senior pitcher Hunter Osborn was nearly good enough to win despite six Cartersville errors.
However, one unearned run in the third inning and some missed opportunities on offense brought the game to extra innings where Blessed Trinity would manufacture a run to steal Game 1.
“I kept thinking in the back of my mind, if we could just scratch one run out we could win it,” acting head coach Kyle Tucker said of the game. “We knew there would be those types of games. [Blessed Trinity’s] pitching is great, their defense is great. Our pitching is great. Our defense is great.”
Tucker was serving as the head coach for Game 1 as Chester was still serving a two-game suspension for his ejection in Game 2 of the semifinal round.
“That’s just unfortunate,” Tucker said of not having Chester available for Game 1. “I’m not making an excuse at all, I just wish we didn’t have to go into the state championship series like that.”
Whether Chester was on the field or not, Cartersville’s six errors in the first four innings were bound to cost the team at some point.
Two errors in the third inning finally brought home the first run for Blessed Trinity when Jack Dunn singled to get the inning started. Cartersville then threw the ball away trying to chase Dunn back to first base, moving the lead run to second base.
“We had a little play on there and we didn’t execute it right. It got him to second,” Tucker said of the error.
Dunn was then nearly picked off by Osborn at second base, but a low throw got by shortstop Clifton Dempsey, who was covering the base, and the ball trickled into center field. Dunn would have been caught in a rundown had the pickoff throw been made successfully, but as it was, Dunn scored all the way from second base on the play to give Blessed Trinity a 1-0 lead.
“It looked like we had him picked off,” Tucker said of the play. “Tip your cap to that [Dunn]. He’s fast.”
Dunn’s single was the only hit Osborn allowed in his seven innings of work as the one run was unearned and Osborn did not walk a batter. He regularly had to work around errors and finished his outing with six strikeouts.
“I know he shut out Ringgold earlier this year, but that’s his best game of his career,” Tucker said of Osborn’s performance. “I’ve never seen his breaking ball like that.”
The Canes would answer back in the third inning when Elliott Berrey, who has only batted two games in the postseason, displayed a good piece of hitting to poke the ball the opposite way into the outfield for a base hit.
Dempsey then dropped down a well-executed sacrifice bunt to move courtesy runner Trenton Frazier to second base. Brent Arnold was the next batter and also happened to be Cartersville’s hottest hitter. After his six-RBI series against Buford, Arnold drove in Cartersville’s first run of the championship series with a double into the left-center field gap to score Frazier.
“Single, bunt, double. That’s how you draw it up,” Tucker said of the run.
Neither team would score over the next three innings and the game would go to the eighth inning.
Chris Siebert, the No. 9 hitter for Blessed Trinity, doubled to lead off the inning off of Lane Wilson, throwing his first inning of the game. Wilson had been stellar over the course of Cartersville’s postseason run and was coming off a Game 2 win in the semifinal series at Buford. However, he would allow a two-out single to Blessed Trinity’s top hitter, Cody Roberts, to give the Titans the 2-1 lead.
Cartersville was unable to manufacture a run in the bottom of the inning and dropped Game 1.
Blessed Trinity starting pitcher Ryan Young pitched seven innings, allowing three hits in the win.
“Give them a lot of credit, I was really impressed with them, especially defensively,” Tucker said of Blessed Trinity. “[Young] got ahead, he got ahead, he got ahead. He kept the ball down and never let us get any momentum going.”
Blessed Trinity 3, Cartersville 2
Down 2-0 in the top of the seventh inning with just three outs seemingly remaining in Cartersville’s season, the odds seemed stacked against the Canes.
However, Cartersville has been no stranger to the comeback during its playoff run and had one last one left in them.
Cartersville manufactured two runs in the seventh inning to bring the game to extras.
Still, Cody Roberts’ second game-winning RBI of the series in the ninth inning would end Cartersville’s season.
“It goes back to Blessed Trinity, their pitchers would make a quality pitch, get you to chase something you shouldn’t chase, and sometimes, the baseball just don’t bounce your way,” Chester said. “You have to credit them. You have to give credit to baseball, too. A Baseball is a round ball. Sometimes it bounces your way, sometimes it doesn’t. We just didn’t get a lot of breaks but we didn’t create a lot of breaks, either.”
Blessed Trinity scored a run in the first inning and a run in the fourth inning to take the lead.
Meanwhile, Cartersville stranded the bases loaded twice, once in the first inning and once in the fourth inning.
“What probably broke us was bases loaded twice and we didn’t score any runs,” Chester said. “I can tell our kids all year long, ‘You can’t give them four outs an inning, and when you get people on, you have to produce.’ We didn’t do either one of those, really.”
Blessed Trinity’s top left-handed pitcher, Brad Spinner, stymied Cartersville through five innings. He did not allow a run and struck out seven in his outing, handing over a 2-0 lead to the bullpen.
“He’s just off speed and he keeps you off balance,” Chester said of Spinner. “He’s not going to throw it by you. He’s going to locate away, away, away and you have to adjust to that. If you don’t, you won’t score many runs.”
Finally, Spinner was relieved and Blessed Trinity brough in its closer, Roberts, for the top of the seventh inning.
It was then that Cartersville began to rally, beginning with a walk by Quattlebaum. Blessed Trinity’s second baseman then made an error on what seemed like a ready-made, double-play groundball. All runners were safe on the play and Cartersville gained all the momentum.
Chester then had Dempsey drop down a bunt, which he executed perfectly for the second time in as many games.
“You’re just playing the baseball numbers there,” Chester said of the decision to have Dempsey bunt. “You tie it and put the winning run at second base with two swings, and that’s what we did. We were playing the percentages. You have your two, three, four hitters coming up. Hopefully, you get something out of those two and get them across and it puts their defense in a difficult spot. “
As a result of the bunt, runners were on second and third with one out and Arnold was up at the plate. Arnold grounded out to shortstop to score a run
Elliott Anderson, Cartersville’s No. 3 hitter, then fell behind in the count and had two strikes on him after going hitless for the day. However, Anderson saved his hit for when it was needed most and came through with a groundball to the left side of the infield that was out of the reach of the shortstop. Wilson scored from third and Cartersville had tied the game.
After a scoreless eighth inning, Cartersville starting pitcher Garrett Rutledge was still on the hill for Cartersville after 117 pitches. The senior right-hander had throw four complete games in the four previous series and was on his way to another Saturday.
Rutledge has been Cartersville’s ace in the postseason and Chester was reluctant to take him out in the biggest innings of the year.
“Of course, you need a crowbar and a wrecker to pull him off the mound,” Chester said of Rutledge. “Pitch count at seven innings, your goal is 115, so he was two pitches over. He was the type of person, we were either going to win it or lose it with him.”
Rutledge personified the ‘guts’ Chester had talked about during the playoffs and had another gutsy outing Saturday. He threw 8 2/3 innings, allowed three runs and struck out seven.
“He’s a two-slot guy. Anytime you got a two-slot guy like that, you have four to six pitches depending on curveball, fastball changeup and he was locating all five or six and hitting spots today,” Chester said. “He really doesn’t even start throwing until about the third or fourth inning.”
After 8 2/3 innings, Blessed Trinity was able to get to Rutledge for the walk-off win on another clutch hit by Roberts.
“We just came up a little bit short,” Chester said. “That’s the game of baseball. You don’t prepare things to say when you go out there and lay your guts out on the line, and you come up a little bit short. What do you tell a 16-, 17-year-old kid?”
Still, Cartersville exceeded expectations this year after losing 14 seniors from 2013’s state championship team. However, Chester says the team did not exceed his expectations.
“To be honest with you, hindsight 20/20, right now what I know, It would be an injustice if I said I was surprised or shocked,” he said.
Cartersville finishes the season with a record of 25-13 and reached the program’s eighth state championship game in the last 14 seasons.